-by C.R. Langille
“If you read this, you’re going to die; but, it’s for charity.”
Randall looked up from the magazine and stared at the large man behind the table. The man wore a faded Hawaiian shirt with an atrocious flower design. A beat up name tag sat crooked on the man’s chest that read, “Hello, my name is Vlad.” Vlad used a stumpy finger and pushed a pair of wide rimmed glasses back into place, and then pointed at the thick magazine that Randall clutched.
“The publication you’ve got there, it’s called, If You Read This, You’re Going to Die. All the proceeds go charity,” Vlad said, and let out a nervous laugh that slinked from his lips and slithered into the air.
Randall turned his attention back to the magazine and admired the cover art; a custom piece donated for the convention. In fact, due to the charity event, the magazine was full of flash fiction from a number well known horror authors, as well as a handful of newcomers.
“The magazine was created special for this year’s World Horror Convention. I’m sure it will be a collector’s piece,” Vlad said and once again pushed his glasses back into position.
Randall flipped the magazine open and thumbed through a few pages. There was more art inside; one piece in particular drew his attention. It depicted an old open-air marketplace set in a medieval countryside. A number of people gathered in front of a large table. There was a tall man behind the table with his arms spread wide and his mouth stretched into a devilish grin. The smile bothered Randall, but that wasn’t nearly as troubling as the man’s hands. Long black talons stretched from each finger.
The crowd in the picture gathered around the table and was fixated on an object. Randall peered closer
and tried to see what the object was. Vlad spoke up again, jolting Randall from his concentration.
“In fact, I’ve heard that most of the authors that contributed are willing to sign it if you can find
Randall closed the magazine and put it under his arm. It was warm and gave his body an electric tingle. He
instinctively guarded it and tightened his arm down on the publication when others walked by. Randall couldn’t explain the newfound possessiveness, but it was overbearing.
“How much?” Randall asked, almost whispering.
“It’s a steal! Just 7.95, plus tax.”
Randall grabbed a 20 from his wallet and shoved it toward Vlad. While he waited for change, Randall looked at the drawing again. Something had changed.
The salesman in the picture had his arms crossed and appeared to be looking straight at him, the grin on his
face stretching beyond human proportions.
Randall’s heart skipped a beat, and he looked away from the magazine. Vlad was gone. His change was on the table next to a handwritten receipt.
He scanned the table of magazines looking for another copy of the special edition he had in his hands.
Randall wanted to compare drawings. But as he searched the rows and rows of publications, he couldn’t find another one.
Randall grabbed his money and the receipt. Before he put it away in his wallet, he read what Vlad wrote.
You’re going to die – $7.95.
Randall didn’t stick around the convention too long. His thoughts continued to drift to the drawing and he
checked it several times, searching for more changed details. The convention’s crowd generated too much noise and became a distraction, so he left and drove home.
As soon as he plowed through the door he bolted the lock and retreated to the bedroom. Randall barreled onto the bed like a beached whale and opened the magazine.
He flipped the book open right to the drawing. His hands shook and breath came in short gasps.
The picture was now devoid of all people, with the exception of the person behind the table. With the people
gone, the object on the table was clearly visible—a publication of some sorts. The man’s grin sent a shiver down Randall’s spine.
He turned the page, anything to get the image from his brain. Without thinking he read the story associated with the art. It was supposed to be a magazine full of flash fiction, but Randall continued reading the story, page after page. After a couple of hours, the words blurred and melded together. He tried to regain focus on them but they would shake and disappear from view.
After an eternity, some of the words started regain familiar shapes. Randall tried to discern a pattern to the
refocused words and letters, but as he strained, his head ached. It started small, a dull buzz behind his ears, but it didn’t take long before the buzz turned violent and the pain stabbed at his brain. Then it turned from a precise to stab to an angry beating.
He tried to stop reading the gibberish before him, but he couldn’t keep his hands from turning the pages
which never seemed to end. Faster and faster the pages blurred in front him, yet somehow his eyes still picked up random words. Some small voice in the back of his head screamed at him to stop, to look away or else, but he couldn’t.
Finally, just when he thought he might have a grasp at what the words were saying, his hands stopped and the picture was once again in view. It had changed again and this time showed his bedroom, with him lying on the bed reading the magazine. Everything in the picture was the same in the room, down to the last detail, except one thing. In the drawing, his closet was slightly ajar and a clawed hand grasped the cheap wooden door.